This month we put emphasis on building our library of books about queer icons of the Harlem Renaissance! We also picked up Blood, Bread, and Poetry by lesbian feminist author Adrienne Rich, which includes her essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” — a must-read to better understand the history of the hot-button term ‘comphet’ you may have heard flying around social media in the past few years.

Let us know in the comments or our contact form what bi, pan, and fluid titles we should consider adding to the library’s shelves next — or sponsor the purchase via our Adopt-A-Book program to guarantee we get a copy!

Nonfiction we added in February…

Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985
By Adrienne Rich

That Adrienne Rich is a not only a major American poet but an incisive, compelling prose writer is made clear once again by this collection, in which she continues to explore the social and political context of her life and art. Examining the connections between history and the imagination, ethics and action, she explores the possible meanings of being white, female, lesbian, Jewish, and a United States citizen, both at this particular time and through the lens of the past.

Blues Legacies and Black Feminism: Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday
By Angela Y. Davis

From one of this country’s most important intellectuals comes a brilliant analysis of the blues tradition that examines the careers of three crucial black women blues singers through a feminist lens. Angela Davis provides the historical, social, and political contexts with which to reinterpret the performances and lyrics of Gertrude Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, and Billie Holiday as powerful articulations of an alternative consciousness profoundly at odds with mainstream American culture.

The works of Rainey, Smith, and Holiday have been largely misunderstood by critics. Overlooked, Davis shows, has been the way their candor and bravado laid the groundwork for an aesthetic that allowed for the celebration of social, moral, and sexual values outside the constraints imposed by middle-class respectability. Through meticulous transcriptions of all the extant lyrics of Rainey and Smith–published here in their entirety for the first time–Davis demonstrates how the roots of the blues extend beyond a musical tradition to serve as a conciousness-raising vehicle for American social memory. A stunning, indispensable contribution to American history, as boldly insightful as the women Davis praises, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism is a triumph.

Bulldaggers, Pansies, and Chocolate Babies: Performance, Race, and Sexuality in the Harlem Renaissance
By James F. Wilson

Bulldaggers, Pansies, and Chocolate Babies shines the spotlight on historically neglected plays and performances that challenged early twentieth-century notions of the stratification of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation. On Broadway stages, in Harlem nightclubs and dance halls, and within private homes sponsoring rent parties, African American performers of the 1920s and early 1930s teased the limits of white middle-class morality. Blues-singing lesbians, popularly known as “bulldaggers,” performed bawdy songs; cross-dressing men vied for the top prizes in lavish drag balls; and black and white women flaunted their sexuality in scandalous melodramas and musical revues. Race leaders, preachers, and theater critics spoke out against these performances that threatened to undermine social and political progress, but to no avail: mainstream audiences could not get enough of the riotous entertainment.

James F. Wilson has based his rich cultural history on a wide range of documents from the period, including eyewitness accounts, newspaper reports, songs, and play scripts, combining archival research with an analysis grounded in a cultural studies framework that incorporates both queer theory and critical race theory. Throughout, he argues against the widely held belief that the stereotypical forms of black, lesbian, and gay show business of the 1920s prohibited the emergence of distinctive new voices. Figuring prominently in the book are African American performers including Gladys Bentley, Ethel Waters, and Florence Mills, among others, and prominent writers, artists, and leaders of the era, including Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, Zora Neale Hurston, and W. E. B. Du Bois. The study also engages with contemporary literary critics, including Henry Louis Gates and Houston Baker.

Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and the Social Constructionist Controversy
By Edward Stein

Perhaps the central issue in the emerging area of inquiry known as lesbian and gay studies is the social constructionist controversy. Social constructionism is the view that the categories of sexual orientation (the category “homosexual” in particular, but also the categories “heterosexual” and “bisexual”) are cultural constructs rather than universal categories of nature. According to this view, it makes no sense to say, for example, that Socrates was a homosexual because the cultural kind had not yet been constructed.

Forms of Desire brings together important essays by social constructionists and their critics representing several disciplines and several different approaches to this debate about the history and science of sexuality. The recent social constructionist viewpoint has its contemporary sources in two different schools of thought: continental philosophy as represented by Michel Foucault and the social interactionist school of sociology as represented by Mary McIntosh.The position’s more distant ancestry involves the philosophical position known as nominalism. By bringing together papers which discuss different versions of social constructionism, as well as a number of papers critical of the view, the anthology provides easy access to the important essays on the topic and makes more transparent both the position and its genealogy.

Gay Rebel of the Harlem Renaissance: Selections from the Work of Richard Bruce Nugent
By Richard Bruce Nugent

Richard Bruce Nugent (1906-1987) was a writer, painter, illustrator, and popular bohemian personality who lived at the center of the Harlem Renaissance. Protégé of Alain Locke, roommate of Wallace Thurman, and friend of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston, the precocious Nugent stood for many years as the only African-American writer willing to clearly pronounce his homosexuality in print. His contribution to the landmark publication FIRE!!, “Smoke, Lilies and Jade,” was unprecedented in its celebration of same-sex desire. A resident of the notorious “Niggeratti Manor,” Nugent also appeared on Broadway in Porgy (the 1927 play) and Run, Little Chillun (1933).

Thomas H. Wirth, a close friend of Nugent’s during the last years of the artist’s life, has assembled a selection of Nugent’s most important writings, paintings, and drawings-works mostly unpublished or scattered in rare and obscure publications and collected here for the first time. Wirth has written an introduction providing biographical information about Nugent’s life and situating his art in relation to the visual and literary currents which influenced him. A foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr. emphasizes the importance of Nugent for African American history and culture.

Gay Voices of the Harlem Renaissance (Blacks in the Diaspora)
By A. B. Christa Schwartz

This groundbreaking study explores the Harlem Renaissance as a literary phenomenon fundamentally shaped by same-sex-interested men. Christa Schwarz focuses on Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Richard Bruce Nugent and explores these writers’ sexually dissident or gay literary voices. The portrayals of men-loving men in these writers’ works vary significantly. Schwarz locates in the poetry of Cullen, Hughes, and McKay the employment of contemporary gay code words, deriving from the Greek discourse of homosexuality and from Walt Whitman. By contrast, Nugent–the only “out” gay Harlem Renaissance artist–portrayed men-loving men without reference to racial concepts or Whitmanesque codes. Schwarz argues for contemporary readings attuned to the complex relation between race, gender, and sexual orientation in Harlem Renaissance writing.

Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers
By Maxwell King

Fred Rogers (1928–2003) was an enormously influential figure in the history of television and in the lives of tens of millions of children. As the creator and star of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he was a champion of compassion, equality, and kindness. Rogers was fiercely devoted to children and to taking their fears, concerns, and questions about the world seriously.

The Good Neighbor, the first full-length biography of Fred Rogers, tells the story of this utterly unique and enduring American icon. Drawing on original interviews, oral histories, and archival documents, Maxwell King traces Rogers’s personal, professional, and artistic life through decades of work, including a surprising decision to walk away from the show to make television for adults, only to return to the neighborhood with increasingly sophisticated episodes, written in collaboration with experts on childhood development. An engaging story, rich in detail, The Good Neighbor is the definitive portrait of a beloved figure, cherished by multiple generations.

Heat Wave : The Life and Career of Ethel Waters
By Donald Bogle

No other star of the twentieth century reimagined herself with such audacity and durable talent as did Ethel Waters. In this enlightening and engaging biography, Donald Bogle resurrects this astonishing woman from the annals of history, shedding new light on the tumultuous twists and turns of her seven-decade career in music, on Broadway, in Hollywood, and beyond.

Bogle traces Waters’s life from her poverty-stricken childhood to her triumphant rise in show business, detailing her successes with recordings like “Stormy Weather” and “Am I Blue?”; her notorious feuds with stars like Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, and Lena Horne; her professional relationships with Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and other entertainment legends; and her various, tempestuous love affairs. In addition, Bogle explores Waters’s ongoing racial battles and growing paranoia, and the significance her highly publicized life had upon audiences unaccustomed to the travails of a larger-than-life African American woman.

Wonderfully atmospheric, richly detailed, and drawn from an array of candid interviews, “Heat Wave” vividly brings to life a major cultural figure of the twentieth century–a charismatic, complex, and compelling woman, both tragic and triumphant.

Lady Sings the Blues
By Billie Holiday

Lady Sings the Blues is the fiercely honest, no-holds-barred autobiography of Billie Holiday, the legendary jazz, swing, and standards singing sensation. Taking the reader on a fast-moving journey from Holiday’s rough-and-tumble Baltimore childhood (where she ran errands at a whorehouse in exchange for the chance to listen to Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith albums), to her emergence on Harlem’s club scene, to sold-out performances with the Count Basie Orchestra and with Artie Shaw and his band, this revelatory memoir is notable for its trenchant observations on the racism that darkened Billie’s life and the heroin addiction that ended it too soon. We are with her during the mesmerizing debut of “Strange Fruit”; with her as she rubs shoulders with the biggest movie stars and musicians of the day (Bob Hope, Lana Turner, Clark Gable, Benny Goodman, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, and more); and with her through the scrapes with Jim Crow, spats with Sarah Vaughan, ignominious jailings, and tragic decline. All of this is told in Holiday’s tart, streetwise style and hip patois that makes it read as if it were written yesterday.

Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity
By Mattilda aka Matt Bernstein Sycamore

Nobody Passes is a collection of essays that confronts and challenges the very notion of belonging. By examining the perilous intersections of identity, categorization, and community, contributors challenge societal mores and countercultural norms. Nobody Passes explores and critiques the various systems of power seen (or not seen) in the act of “passing.” In a pass-fail situation, standards for acceptance may vary, but somebody always gets trampled on. This anthology seeks to eliminate the pressure to pass and thereby unearth the delicious and devastating opportunities for transformation that might create.

Rough Amusements: The True Story of A’Lelia Walker, Patroness of the Harlem Renaissance’s Down-Low Culture
By Ben Neihart

When A’Lelia Walker died in 1931 after a midnight snack of lobster and chocolate cake washed down with champagne, it marked the end of one of the most striking social careers in New York’s history. The daughter of rags-to-riches multi-millionaire Madame C.J. Walker (the washerwoman who marketed the most successful straightening technique for African American hair), A’Lelia was America’s first black poor little rich girl, using her inheritance to throw elaborate, celebrity-packed parties in her Westchester Mansion and her 136th Street would-be salon, ‘Dark Tower’. In Rough Amusements, third in Bloomsbury’s Urban Historicals series, Neihart takes us into the heart of A’Lelia’s world-gay Harlem in the 1920s. In tracing its cultural antecedents, he delves into the sexual subculture of nineteenth-century New York, exploring mixed-race prostitution; the bachelorization of New York society; French Balls (“the most sophisticated forum for testing the boundaries of urban sexual behavior”); and The Slide (New York’s most depraved nineteenth-century bar). Using A’Lelia’s lavish parties as a jumping-off point, Neihart traces the line connecting Davy Crockett’s world without women to Walt Whitman’s boundless love of beautiful men to A’Lelia’s cultivation of the racial, social, and sexual risk that defined the Harlem Renaissance.

Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire
By Lisa M. Diamond

Is love “blind” when it comes to gender? For women, it just might be. This unsettling and original book offers a radical new understanding of the context-dependent nature of female sexuality. Lisa Diamond argues that for some women, love and desire are not rigidly heterosexual or homosexual but fluid, changing as women move through the stages of life, various social groups, and, most important, different love relationships. This perspective clashes with traditional views of sexual orientation as a stable and fixed trait. But that view is based on research conducted almost entirely on men. Diamond is the first to study a large group of women over time. She has tracked one-hundred women for more than ten years as they have emerged from adolescence into adulthood. She summarizes their experiences and reviews research ranging from the psychology of love to the biology of sex differences.

Sexual Fluidity offers moving first-person accounts of women falling in and out of love with men or women at different times in their lives. For some, gender becomes irrelevant: “I fall in love with the person, not the gender,” say some respondents. Sexual Fluidity offers a new understanding of women’s sexuality–and of the central importance of love.

Transgender Warriors : Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman
By Leslie Feinberg

In this fascinating, personal journey through history, Leslie Feinberg uncovers persuasive evidence that there have always been people who crossed the cultural boundaries of gender. Transgender Warriors is an eye-opening jaunt through the history of gender expression and a powerful testament to the rebellious spirit.

Two Lives to Lead : Bisexuality in Men and Women
By Timothy J. Wolf and Fritz Klein

An unbiased and revealing look at bisexuality, an important variation and aspect of homosexuality. Leading sex researchers of bisexuality look at this often-misunderstood sexual minority and explain the major issues affecting bisexual men and women today. The authors bring to this book a solid understanding of the issues involving bisexuality and clarify many misconceptions surrounding this controversial area of human sexual identity.

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments : Intimate Histories of Social Upheaval
By Saidiya Hartman

In Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Saidiya Hartman examines the revolution of black intimate life that unfolded in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. Free love, common-law and transient marriages, serial partners, cohabitation outside of wedlock, queer relations, and single motherhood were among the sweeping changes that altered the character of everyday life and challenged traditional Victorian beliefs about courtship, love, and marriage. Hartman narrates the story of this radical social transformation against the grain of the prevailing century-old argument about the crisis of the black family.

In wrestling with the question of what a free life is, many young black women created forms of intimacy and kinship that were indifferent to the dictates of respectability and outside the bounds of law. They cleaved to and cast off lovers, exchanged sex to subsist, and revised the meaning of marriage. Longing and desire fueled their experiments in how to live. They refused to labor like slaves or to accept degrading conditions of work.

Beautifully written and deeply researched, Wayward Lives recreates the experience of young urban black women who desired an existence qualitatively different than the one that had been scripted for them—domestic service, second-class citizenship, and respectable poverty—and whose intimate revolution was apprehended as crime and pathology. For the first time, young black women are credited with shaping a cultural movement that transformed the urban landscape. Through a melding of history and literary imagination, Wayward Lives recovers their radical aspirations and insurgent desires.

New on the site…

  • Table of contents and inter-linked bibliography sections are being added to our nonfiction book pages! It’s a slow process, but we think it will benefit researchers who visit the Bi Pan Library site.
  • We’re on TikTok now! Follow us for fun & information videos about bi/pan history and literature.

Let us know in the comments or our contact form what bi, pan, and fluid titles we should consider adding to the library’s shelves next — or sponsor the purchase via our Adopt-A-Book program to guarantee we get a copy!


Bren Frederick (she/her) is a disabled bisexual and genderfluid activist, former bookseller, and founder of the Bi Pan Library. Bren lives in WA state with her partner, their two children catsand a suffocating number of bookshelves.

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